Jorge Mas Canosa (21 September 1939 – 23 November 1997) was a Cuban-American immigrant who founded the Cuban-American National Foundation and MasTec, a publicly traded company. He was regarded within the US as an effective lobbyist on Cuban and anti-Castro political positions, but was labeled a "counterrevolutionary" by the Cuban government.
Jorge Mas Canosa was born into a religious, middle-class family in Santiago de Cuba, Cuba on September 21, 1939. Since an early age, he was outspoken about his oppositions to dictatorships and was persecuted and imprisoned for his views by both the Fulgencio Batista and Fidel Castro regimes. After expressing his views about the latter of these, Mas Canosa was forced into exile and arrived in Miami, Florida.
Mas Canosa married Irma Santos, his high school sweetheart from Santiago, in Miami, Florida. They had three sons, Jorge Mas, Juan Carlos Mas, and Jose Mas.
At the age of fifteen, Mas Canosa spoke out against Batista’s dictatorship and was briefly imprisoned. Released into his father’s custody, his family sent him to the Presbyterian Junior College in Maxton, North Carolina. There, Mas Canosa learned English and studied the political philosophy of Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine, which would influence his outlook in the years to come.
Mas Canosa returned to Santiago to study law at the University of Oriente when the Batista regime was overthrown. As soon as he decided that Castro’s new government was undemocratic in nature, Mas Canosa resumed his political activism. He was forced into exile under threat of arrest and arrived in Miami in 1960, where he joined the Brigade 2506 and participated in the failed Bay of Pigs invasion in April 1961. He later graduated as Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Army at Fort Benning, Georgia, but ultimately left the army when it became clear that the US was not developing any plans to attack or invade Cuba. Mas Canosa then devoted himself to his business career.
In Miami, Mas Canosa took jobs as a milkman, stevedore and shoe salesman, while also working energetically to build up the anti-Castro movement. The New York Times reported that he had raised money to obtain weapons and research locations in the Caribbean which could be used as a base for attacks on Cuba.
Iglesias & Torres
In 1969, Mas Canosa went into business with the owners of Iglesias y Torres, a floundering and overextended construction firm that constructed and serviced telephone networks in Puerto Rico. Renaming the company Church & Tower, Mas Canosa obtained a $50,000 loan and became a part owner. Managing Miami operations, he used his growing reputation in the exile community to secure lines of credit and was ultimately able to optimize his workers’ construction methods and increase the company’s productivity. The company grew from South Miami to Ft. Lauderdale with $40 million in annual revenues in 1980. Church & Tower became the basis for a telecommunications empire that made Mas Canosa one of the richest Hispanic businessmen in the United States; his net worth was estimated at more than $100 million when he died in 1998.
Following the incorporation of Mas Canosa’s sons into the business became MasTec, Inc. in 1994 when Jorge Mas led a reverse acquisition by its former competitor, Burnup & Sims.
Today, MasTec, Inc. (NYSE:MTZ) is a $4.2 billion revenue infrastructure construction company with approximately 15,900 employees and 470 locations. MasTec is a leader in six distinct business lines. Power Generation and Industrial renewable, Natural Gas and Oil Pipeline, Electrical Transmission, Wireless, Wireline Utility Services and DirecTV install to the home. MasTec is one of the Top five largest Hispanic owned firms in the United States and was the first to reach the $1 billion revenue mark in 1998.
Cuban American National Foundation
In 1981, Mas Canosa, along with Raul Masvidal and Carlos Salman, established the Cuban American National Foundation (CANF), at the suggestion of Richard Allen, Ronald Reagan's National Security Advisor, and Mario Elgarresta, a member of Allen's staff. The group was founded as part of a broader strategy to sideline more moderate perspectives within the Cuban-American community, and to convert anti-Castro activism from a more militant to a more political strategy.
CANF was widely described during Mas Canosa's tenure as one of the most powerful ethnic lobbying organizations in the US, and used campaign contributions to advance its policy in Washington, DC. Carter administration officials believed that if not for Mas Canosa, the United States might have ended the Cuban embargo.
Radio and television Martí
In the early 1980s, Mas Canosa urged President Ronald Reagan to create a radio station aimed at broadcasting news into Cuba. After the station (named Radio Martí, after José Martí) was created, Reagan named Mas Canosa chair of the advisory board of the Office of Cuba Broadcasting, which advised the president on the operation of the station. Station employees later accused Mas Canosa of interfering with station content, including accusations that he had complained that the stations did not give enough coverage to his personal activities.
New Republic lawsuit
Mas Canosa sued The New Republic for libel after a 1994 article in the magazine referred to him as a "mobster". The case settled out of court for $100,000, and the magazine issued an apology.
Feud with Miami Herald
Mas Canosa repeatedly feuded with the Miami Herald, which he claimed had Cuban spies among its reporting staff. He accused the paper of fermenting "hate, disinformation and reckless disregard" of the Miami Cuban community. In 1992, after the Herald editorialized against a bill he supported, and the newspaper's Spanish-language Nuevo Herald wrote an editorial critical of him, he organized a boycott of the newspaper and posted advertisements on city buses which announced: "I don't believe The Miami Herald".
Mas Canosa died in Miami on November 23, 1997 from lung cancer, compounded by pleurisy and renal failure.